North Carolina Hog Farm Lawsuits– Farm Interests Turn to State Legislators

Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio reported yesterday that, “Blankets of black flies spawned by a nearby industrial hog farm’s uncovered cesspools can be so thick, Elvis Williams told jurors Tuesday, he built a screened front porch for his mobile home so that he could continue grilling dinners as he’s loved doing for decades.

“The 60-year-old former textile worker testified in one of numerous federal lawsuits that have rattled agribusiness in the country’s No. 2 hog-growing state. Farm interests have turned to state legislators to erect new protections for the politically influential pork industry.

“Of about two dozen lawsuits filed years ago by more than 500 eastern North Carolina neighbors against Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Williams’ is the second to reach jurors.”

The AP article noted that, “Four blocks away from the federal courthouse where Williams testified, a state House committee on Tuesday approved legislation sharply limiting neighbors from punishing farm operations for causing severe nuisances. The proposed law would all but block other neighbors from suing industrial-scale livestock operations in the future.

Lawmakers said their action was spurred by the $51 million in penalties a jury in the first trial ordered Smithfield Foods to pay to neighbors who spent decades tolerating horrible smells and other nuisances. The fine was cut to about $3 million because North Carolina law limits punitive damages meant to punish misdeeds. Smithfield, its related lobbying groups and rural advocates described the jury’s decision as a threat to agribusiness in North Carolina.

“Landowners in the state’s eastern farm belt turned to raising hogs or turkeys after the decline of previously profitable tobacco farms. The lawsuits now place those enterprises in doubt, said Joseph Scott, mayor of Mount Olive, a town of 3,600 people located in the three-county region that makes up the United States’ heaviest concentration of industrialized hog lots.”

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